By: Matthew Vale
We are already halfway through February which means that we have almost made it to the best month of the year for a college basketball fan: March! With 3 weeks to go in the regular season before the Big 10 tournament I will do a quick reset on where these teams stack up for March Madness and what each team needs to do to ensure an invite to the Big Dance.
#1. Michigan (14-1, 9-1) (E)
Magic Number: 0- tournament lock. Technically as of now Michigan only has 5 games scheduled remaining but they will have 4 more if they make up all of their postponed games. Especially with the difficulty of their remaining schedule, the Wolverines could lose all 5 of these games and still be locked into a high tournament spot, something will have had to go very very wrong for that to happen. Realistically I see Michigan winning 7 of their possible 9 remaining games. That would ensure Michigan at bare minimum a share of the Big 10 crown and most likely a top 2 seed in the Big Dance. Ken Pom loves Michigan as they are ranked 7th in both offensive and defensive efficiency which is good enough for 3rd best in the country. Michigan is a well built, well coached team that has what it takes to cut down the nets in Indianapolis.
#2. Ohio State (17-4, 11-4) (E)
Magic number: 0- tournament lock. Ohio State has played every game they have supposed to so far. (They did have a game postponed vs Penn State but they have already made it up). This leaves the Buckeyes with 5 games left and three of them are against Michigan, Iowa, and Illinois, luckily all at home so OSU probably wins at least 2 of these but even if they lose all three they will still retain a pretty good NCAA tournament seed. Depending on what Michigan does, there is a chance OSU can run the table and take the crown but I think a 3 seed in the Big 10 tournament is most likely with a top 3 seed in the NCAA tournament.
#3. Illinois (14-5, 10-3) (E)
Magic number: 0- tournament lock. Illinois has 7 games left and 4 of them are at Minnesota, at Michigan, at Wisconsin, and at Ohio State. I bet Illinois wins at least 2 of these, but even if the Illini lose all 4 of these, they will be in fine shape to make the NCAA tournament. Illinois’ other 2 games are against Northwestern and Michigan State; Illinois must win these to ensure their tournament seed doesn’t take a big drop. Assuming they win these 2 and split the other 4, Illinois should easily be looking at a top 3 seed in the Big 10 tournament and the Big Dance.
#4. Iowa (15-6, 9-5) (E)
Magic number: 0- tournament lock. Iowa should have 6 games left and 4 out of the 6 of them are against ranked opponents. Similar to Ohio State and Illinois, they could lose these games and be fine, and still manage a tournament berth, but their seed can fall a lot further than either of those two teams. I can realistically see Iowa going 3-3 in these final 6, assuming that happens the Hawkeyes would be locked into at worst a top 5 seed. But they could shoot up the seed lines if they can figure out how to win 2 or 3 of their games vs Wisconsin (x2), Michigan, and Ohio State. Iowa has as a ceiling as anybody in the top 4 of these rankings, but they have the lowest floor because of their defense.
#5. Wisconsin (15-7, 9-6) (E)
Magic number: 1- most likely in. 5 games left for Wisconsin and if they win 1 more that would ensure at least a .500 Big 10 record to go with an above .500 overall record. They might not even need that because it is a very weak bubble this year, but 1 more would for sure lock the Badgers into the NCAA tournament, Especially because the Badgers might only win 1 out of the next 5, with 2 games vs Iowa, at Purdue, home vs Illinois and at Northwestern. Even a win vs lowly NW should get the job done for the Badgers. Wisconsin is the exact opposite of Iowa in that I think Wisconsin has a high floor in but a low ceiling. Outside of a annihilation of Louisville and a decent road win at MSU, which is looking less and less impressive, the Badgers have beaten pretty much every team they should beat but have lost to all of the top tier conference teams. That makes me very hesitant to think of the Badgers as a legitimate Final 4 contender, I would say their ceiling would be making it to the Sweet 16.
#6. Purdue (13-8, 8-6) (E)
Magic number: 2- most likely in. 2 wins would ensure that Purdue goes at least 500 in the big 10 with 6 games to play. The Boilers might have one of the easiest remaining schedules in the conference with 2 games vs Nebraska, vs MSU, at Penn State, then home vs Wisconsin and IU to end the season. Even as an apprehensive Purdue fan, I don’t think it would be that crazy for Purdue to run the table and maybe even sneak into a Big 10 tournament double bye. My guess it’s that they will go 5-1 because even though they should win all of these, I bet they have at least 1 slip up. At 5-1 that should put Purdue in at bare minimum a 5-6 seed maybe even a 4 seed in the Big Dance.
#7. Rutgers (12-7, 8-7) (+1)
Magic number: 2- most likely in. This number might even be just one for the Scarlet Knights, they might just have to beat Nebraska to guarantee their place in the NCAA tournament. With 5 games left Rutgers has games at Michigan, vs Maryland, vs IU, at Nebraska, at Minnesota. I bet the Scarlet Knights go 3-2 in these, losing to Michigan and Minnesota. Assuming that likely outcome, Rutgers is definitely invited to their first dance this century and are looking at most likely between a 6-8 seed. Rutgers has the star power to potentially make a run in the tournament but my guess is that they most likely just win a game or two.
#8. Minnesota (13-8, 6-8) (-1)
Magic number: 2 road games: Bubble- most likely will sneak into the tournament. Minnesota’s path to the tournament is frustratingly simple: win a road game. The Gophers have one of the best home resumes in the country with the elite win over Michigan, then high quality wins over Iowa and Ohio State, bringing their total to 13-1 at home. However, Minnesota has still yet to win on the road in 7 attempts. Granted, it is a gauntlet of a 7 game road stretch: Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, Purdue, Rutgers, and Maryland; but still, if I am on the committee, I would not let a team in without a road victory. The Gophers have three very winnable road chances left: at Indiana, Nebraska and Penn State. If they win 2 of them they are for sure in the tournament in my book, only 1 of these might be enough but 2 should be doable for extra bubble insurance.
#9. Indiana (11-9, 6-7) (E)
Magic number: 3- Bubble: very close but probably will do enough to sneak in, maybe even as a last 4 team in. There are two must wins that Indiana has to win: home vs Michigan State and home vs Minnesota, if the Hoosiers lose either of those games I think they are left out of the dance barring an upset over one of their other tougher opponents. I think if they win both of these and pull out one more win against their remaining schedule: Michigan (x2), at Rutgers, at MSU, at Purdue.
#10. Michigan State (10-8, 4-8) (+2)
Magic number: 4 Bubble, but probably will end up on the wrong side. 1997… that was the last time the Spartans were not in the NCAA tournament, so for the first time since I was 3 years old I am predicting that Sparty will not be dancing this year. With 8 games left they need to win at least 4 of them and that might not even be enough but if they can win 4 of them they will be very close to the edge of the bubble. What makes me pessimistic about MSU’s chances are that 4 of their remaining 8 games are against Top 5 teams nationally (Michigan twice, OSU, and Illinois). I don’t think they will win any of those, but if they can even win one of them, their tournament dreams might come back to life.
#11. Maryland (11-10, 5-9) (E)
Magic number: 4- Bubble, but they should get in as long as they win the games they will be favored in. With 6 games remaining, the Terps play Nebraska twice, home vs MSU, at Northwestern then finish with Penn State at home. They should be favored in and should win all of these games. The only game that they will be the underdog is at Rutgers but even losing to the Scarlet knights will be ok as long as they take 4 out of the other 5. Combine this with their high quality wins over Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota all on the road, Maryland will be on the right side of the bubble come selection Sunday
#12. Penn State (7-10, 4-9) (-2)
Magic number: 5- lower bubble, most likely going to fall off the pace and be NIT bound. The Nittany Lions nearly need to run the table to make it to the NCAA tournament. Sitting at 7-10 with 7 games remaining, by my count Penn State needs to win at least 5 to give themselves a chance to sneak into the Dance. They must beat Nebraska, Purdue, Minnesota, and Maryland, then win one out of 3 vs Ohio State, Iowa, or Illinois. Realistically I think that Penn State wins 2 or three of these games and winds up in the NIT.
#13. Northwestern (6-12, 3-11) (E)
Magic number: 6- not even NIT at this rate. Northwestern would have to win out in order to even have a glimmer of hope to get back even into the bubble conversation. The best conference start in school history has completely evaporated by a now 11 game losing streak. It is way more likely that NW loses all of their games left thanks wins their remaining games, so I am sorry Wildcat Fans, I think your season will be over after those 6 games.
#14. Nebraska (5-12,1-9) (E)
Huskers win! Good job Nebraska getting your first conference win in over a year… we will see you next year.